The words of the Beatitudes are familiar to us, perhaps too familiar. How can they be too familiar? We have presumed that these words are directed to us because they are about us. Words of wisdom with which we might govern our lives. Directions on holy living. Acknowledgment of the wounds and worries but comfort and hope for the future. We hear these words somewhat differently than Christ spoke them.
You may feel bad now but it will get better; you will not always mourn; be humble and you will reap a rich reward; God will give you an abundant life; be kind to people who do not deserve it because you may need such kindness some day; give up the fun stuff in order to get the holy stuff; help people resolve their differences; if you suffer now God will make it up to you. This may not quite be gospel but it could be worse. It is sort of like the old advice that if you work hard and sacrifice now, you will be a success. It appeals to us because it is predictable and reasonable. It is a give and take with God – give up a few things and you will get a few more. A halfway decent trade we might think and not unlike the trades we make every day of our earthly lives.
I suppose you could hear worse but that is not what Jesus said and it is not what He means. These words, if they are about you or for you are a burden laid upon you, a law that must be kept. Like any agreement, you must give something up in order to get something in return. Perhaps then we should take pause to consider that these words may well be Gospel and, if Gospel, they are not about us but about Jesus.
In order for these words to apply to us and not be a heavy burden laid on us, they must first be about Christ. Hear them again but in terms of Christ:
Blessed is Christ, Our Lord who willingly left behind the heavenly glory to become poor in spirit for us, to earn the Kingdom and give it to us. Though the women mourned and wailed as Jesus made His way to the cross, it was Jesus who mourned our sinful state and loved even those who hated Him and was willing to suffer that we might be set free. Jesus was the rich who became poor for your sake; He who had no place to lay His head, laid it on the cold stone of the grave that we might live. This is Jesus who hungered and thirsted for righteousness on behalf of a world of sinners who hungered and thirsted for anything and everything but righteousness – and without shame. Then Jesus gave away this righteous to you and me in baptism. This is Jesus whose mercy was given not to the deserving or worthy but to proud and arrogant sinners who hide their sins and refuse to confess them. This is Jesus who found no mercy from those who conspired to kill Him and yet gave mercy to those who deserved none.
This is Jesus whose pure heart was directed to the cross for you and me, who managed to suffer and die and still find it in Him to forgive those who knew not what He was doing. This Jesus never ceased to see the Father even when the Father turned away from Him on the cross and left Him to die alone, that this death might be planted in the grave and sprout with the seeds of life for all who believe. His peacemaking did not reconcile the opposing forces with compromise or negotiation but by paying in full the debt of sin we refused to pay and He had no duty to satisfy
When this Jesus was reviled, He did not return in kind but forgave those who put Him to death and those whose death He bore. This is Jesus who the joy set before Him endured it all willingly that the promise given in Eden might be kept, that Satan might be crushed, and that the sons an daughters of Adam and Eve might be called the children of God. He is the true martyr who makes strong those threatened with the worst this world can send and who promises life no one can take. This is Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood sets us free to be people of God.
On this All Saints Day we come, tears in our eyes over those who died in Christ and who live lonely lives without our loved ones. We want answers to our questions why and reasons to explain our suffering. We want justice for those whom we think were robbed of life too soon and we want reward for those whom we have judged good or at least better than most. And if we got that, most of us would go home happy and content. But God refuses to bargain with us. He cuts no deals. He insists that we have given up nothing but our sins and that Christ has given up everything for us. God rejects our reason and never asks us to understand. Instead He points us to Christ and what Christ has done and tells us that our hope is in Christ alone.
For Christ is not ashamed to call us brothers, not too proud to wear our flesh, not too holy to wear our sins, and not too mighty to wear our death. That is the promise of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes show us His glory so that we may see our glory and that glory is not our works but in His mercy. Because we are in Christ, we are now the blessed of the Father who enter into the joy of our master forevermore. Because we are in Christ, His virtues are our earthly clothing and His glory is our hope of glory.
The saints get no justice but they do receive mercy beyond mercy. The saints earn no merits but they are rewarded because they lived in Christ by baptism and faith. The saints had no easy death but they did not die without hope. The saints live not because death is not real but because Christ’s life is even more real. The saints are honored not because they were better than us but because they are equally guilty sinners and equally forgiven and restored by grace.
They were in Christ when they died and they remain in Christ in death and they will live in Christ when that day comes and we shall stand with them in the heavenly places before the throne of God forevermore. And every Sunday we come to hear the echoes of their voices along with the angels and archangels and the whole heavenly host singing: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord. God of Sabaoth! Every Sunday we are nearest to them in the circle around this altar, only part of which is visible to us but all of which is visible to God, one people, called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace to be God’s people – not by right or claim or achievement but by His gift.
Rejoice and be glad, my friends, for your reward is great in heaven. Remember the saints of old and follow their example of faithfulness. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
These Scriptures mean something. What we do here is the most real thing in our lives. And on All Saints Day, with tentative faith and feeble voices, we come to acknowledge what eye cannot see, mind cannot imagine, and heart cannot hope. What has been prepared in Christ for those who love His appearing. Though here divided by time, soon to be together forever. Amen.